Ibex Woolies Review: Ibex You’re Gonna Like These Base Layers

Wool is the bomb diggity. Sheep have known this for time immemorial, and humans picked up on the fact thousands of years ago when they began making wool clothing, or so anthropologists tell us. I spent my young years as an adventurer believing that wool was not only old school, but that it also performed second to new-fangled, human-invented materials in managing temperature and moisture. Maybe I just didn’t want to look like a Viking, or John Muir, or my dad when I was on the mountain. Maybe I just believed all that marketing hype. I’m here to say now, though, that I’m back as a wool believer. In recent years, my drawers have accumulated a mini-army of wool and wool-blend base layers made by multiple manufacturers.

Last winter and spring, I tested a set of Ibex Woolies, the Zip T-Neck
($80) and the Bottom ($65). According to Ibex, these Woolies pieces were designed to function as base layers and are made using super fine wool yarn from New Zealand Merino sheep. Ibex says these pieces achieve additional insulation and stretch via a rib stitching. Extra features to add functionality and attractiveness, says Ibex, are flatlock seams, a form-fitting design, a gusseted pant crotch, and wide cuffs.

I use a wool base layer in multiple aspects of my outdoor life. Here are some examples:

  • On a cold and rainy day, I wear a wool base layer under a thin pair of tights with the goal of feeling warm when my clothing is wet.
  • When camping (including fastpacking), I sleep in a wool base layer, as I’ve found wool to be the fabric that best adjusts to the changing conditions of sleeping outside, such as a stiff wind one minute and humidity the next.
  • I spend a portion of my professional career educating and guiding folks in the outdoors, and I wear wool next to my skin on these outings. I never know what is going to happen on these trips, whether we’ll be going hard or traveling leisurely. Wool manages both temperature and moisture whether we’re talking about high or low-output activities.
  • I sometimes find myself using a base layer as my only layer if the weather turns surprisingly warm. Wool performs well in this category, too, blocking the wind and keeping me cool when the conditions get hot.

I tested the Ibex Woolies in each of these circumstances and more, and I’ve got lots of good news to report:

  • Some 100% wool base layers are fast to stretch out and stay that way. As in, the pieces don’t recover their original shape until they are washed (or at least rinsed in a creek and dried on a rock or tree). The Ibex Woolies keep their shape better than all other wool base layers I’ve used. The Woolies Bottom did lose some of its shape around the hips and butt on an extended bout of use, five sequential days of use in the desert of southern Utah.
  • When the Woolies are wet, they still moderate my body temperature well. I wore the Woolies Bottoms under tights on runs during both snowstorms and rain, and didn’t come home with the frozen thighs I sometimes do in these conditions.
  • The stank. I’m not going to say that wool or the Woolies pieces don’t get it. If you wear wool next to your skin for a day, or five, or fifty without washing it, it acquires and keeps your odor. And, the same is true for many other types of fabrics, no matter what those manufacturers tell us. That said, there are some fabrics and pieces of clothing that get the “this’ll kill a nation” funk, and others that smell only as bad as you do. The Woolies pieces fit into the category of the latter, that when I wear them day-after-day without washing them, they only smell as bad as I do when I do the same.
  • I think the durability quotient of Ibex’s Woolies is high. Most wool base layers are real thin. Wool insulates so-dang well that the material has to be thin in order to let heat/cool and moisture transfer through it. I’ve got a set of wool base layers that I love, made by another manufacturer, but that has small holes around the wrists and ankles from accidentally punching my fingers through when taking them off and putting them on. Ibex uses pretty bombproof ankle and wrist cuffs, achieving this through both tightness of weave and cuff width, to increase durability.

These pieces have a downside that I would be remiss without reporting. Those durable cuffs that I just mentioned? They might be overly durable. Because of their tight weave and width, it’s almost impossible to hike either the top or the bottom up to my elbows or knees. In the few times that I tried to do so, I was frightened that I would rip the material. While the durability is awesome, the compromised functionality isn’t. My message to Ibex on their Woolies cuffs: find a middle ground.

At the end of the adventure, or the day, or the season, I’m still a wool-base-layer convert who is fast becoming an Ibex Woolies fan. A product I use for running and other outdoor adventures has to function well in many kinds of weather conditions and for a variety of activities, and the Ibex Woolies do just that. Ibex you’re gonna like them, too.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Do you wear any wool apparel during your runs? If so, why do you choose wool?
  • What are your favorite wool running apparel items?
  • If you’ve run in Ibex Woolies apparel, what did you think?

[Disclosure: Ibex provided these items for review while using the Amazon links in this article will help support iRunFar.]

Meghan Hicks: is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

View Comments (23)

  • I wear all kinds of wool stuff for running, cycling and everyday-wear. I just started wearing wool running shorts from Icebreaker and I love them.

    To me the best part of wearing wool for running is the fact that it never gets that clammy feel that synthetics can get. I'll wear lightweight wool year-round and I find that it regulates temps better than anything I've ever worn.

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    • Wes, thanks for the comment and I agree with you that the non-clamminess of wool is its best feature. Thanks for chiming in!

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  • Being a bit of alpine hiker, I was told many times by experienced climbers that Merino Wool is the best base layer ever. Unfortunately, I seem to have some kind of allergy/sensitivity for wool, therefore have never been able to wear anything made from wool. It immediately irritates my skin or causes bad itching. So I am stuck with polyester (polartec, etc) as base layer.

    Maybe the reaction is based on how the wool was processed, who knows.

    I would have to try on this one for few minutes before knowing.

    //Matt

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  • Love the review, but really love how you write!

    Thanks for the smile.

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    • Thanks, antirabbit!

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  • Does anyone know where you can buy these in Ontario, Canada ?

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    • Here are some Ibex retailers in Ontario, Canada: Kenmark Snowsports, Threads Lifestyle, Wildrock Outfitters, Muskoka Outfitters, Trailhead Ottawa and Tilley Endurables. Hope that helps!

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  • Bigtime wool convert here! I have been accumulating more and more wool clothing of the last 5 years, and 75% of it is from IBEX. Others include Smartwool and Icebreaker. I wear Smartwool socks pretty much exclusively. Love the Ibex base layers, I wear them all winter long for skiing, running, biking. I also wear Ibex T shirts for running most of the time, except July/Aug in NY when it's 95 degrees and 95% humidity!

    Currently eying some Icebreaker running shorts and some wool tights from one of the above manufacturers.

    The things I like best about the wool stuff are:

    1: Lack of stink that the plastic stuff gets

    2: Warm in winter, cool in summer

    3: Still keeps you warm, even when wet.

    Yes, it's pricey, but it last a long time, and deals can be found. Make sure to check the outlet section of the Ibex site.

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    • Mark, you're the second person who has mentioned wool running shorts here in the comments. Call me thoroughly intrigued, and I'm off to investigate.

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  • Another wool lover. Wool is fabulous year-round in Colorado. Last winter, I discovered the wool tights under spandex tights (full length or kinkers) combination. PERFECTION!

    Wool is $$ but you can find great deals if you are patient. It has taken me about 5 years to fill out my running/mountain wardrobe with wool.

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    • Chris, word to the wool base layer under the thin running tights. It's the sweetness.

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  • I am a big fan of wool clothing and have been impressed by my woolies as well. For running I have a couple Icebreaker pieces i like. They contain 3% lycra to keep their fit better. I did a review of the the Chase Zip here if you want to take a look: Icebreaker Chase Review. I also ran a bit in a Ibex Hoody and another Icebreaker Top that can be seen on my site.

    Lastly if anyone is interested there is a full article on the properties of wool: Wool Article. It has been fun to see more options in the marketplace for wool. Hope they keep it up.

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  • Wool does not dry out or wick as fast as synthetics can. However, when it's cold that's a real advantage because you don't get as chilled from evaporative cooling. A Ibex merino wool baselayer worked extremely well for me during the miserable conditions of the 2011 Hardrock 100, and I never needed to change. But if I wanted to stay cool in hot conditions by keeping my baselayer wet, I would go with a synthetic.

    I also find wool's resistance to "through-hiker stench" almost miraculous. Smells like wet dog at worst.

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  • Ibex wool is the most amazing running clothing ever. I've worn the long-sleeved Norgie Crew (no longer made, I believe they call it Zephyr now) for cold-weather running and other outings for three years. It's magic.

    I was too cheap to try the short-sleeve Ibex shirts. (They want 60 bucks for a thin shirt--what are they smoking?) Then my wife surprised me with a U-Sixty tee on father's day. Thanks honey! What a revelation. I felt like a fool for not buying one sooner. Since that day I've literally not worn any of my synthetic running shirts, and probably never will.

    I wear the U-Sixty for summer running, and then switch to the long-sleeve top when temps drop below about 50F. When winter arrives in earnest here in north Idaho, I double up the long-sleeve top and add the wool bottoms. I also wear these for hiking, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and any time I want a thin, warm layer.

    The Zephyr bottoms are great when it's below freezing. I need to try something thinner (maybe the Woolies bottoms) for spring and fall. A few weeks ago I ran the Mt. Spokane 50k with just shorts, which was pretty cold for the first hour, but the Zephyrs would've roasted me. I'd love to hear how the Woollies bottoms work for others running in the 20-40F temp range.

    Why am I such a fan?

    * Thin merino wool handles a huge temperature range. The thin U-Sixty shirt always feels cool on hot days, yet manages to feel just warm enough when starting out on cold mornings. I wore the tee on a run up Mt. Timpanogos in Utah last month, and was equally comfortable running up in the heat and feeling the colder winds at the top.

    * The fit is incredibly comfortable, even running all day. You have to try it to understand just how much awesomeness we're talking about.

    * It really doesn't stink! After each run I just hang it up, and within a few hours there's virtually no smell. I own two of these and wash them once a week, which may be overkill. (For a while I did fine with only one.) Contrast this with every synthetic top I've ever tried--after a single run they smell like a refrigeration failure in the morgue.

    * They're incredibly durable. I've used my long-sleeve Norgie shirts constantly for three years and they still look essentially new.

    * The folks at Ibex are cool, and they stand by their products. A month after I bought my first top I noticed a small place where the stitching was coming out at the neck. I called to ask about it, and they sent me a new one, and told me to keep the one I already had!

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    • Vern, thanks for the seriously informative comment. I'm appreciative!

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  • I have worn wool baselayers for very cold weather running, backcountry skiing and winter mountaineering and I find that it holds too much moisture for my needs. I work as a ski patroller in the winter, which involves a mix of very heavy exertion (breaking trail, bootpacking, sidestepping, occasional skinning) followed by periods of relative stillness (waiting for explosives to detonate, riding the chairlift) and I find that if I'm wearing wool underneath other layers, it will get wet and stay wet. At 6'2" 155 I'm not a sweat hog, but I do like to exert myself as often as possible.

    Also, I've not found any wool baselayers that resist puncture or abrasion as well as most synthetics. Two years ago I found a deal on several thin wool tops, and now they all have so many holes and stretch marks, despite being confined to limited rotation, that they look older than synthetic tops I've had for three or four times as long.

    Wool feels and looks luxrious and it is certainly warm, but for my money I'll go for cheaper, more durable, more moisture-friendly synthetics like capeline.

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  • Ibex also makes really great sport bras and camisoles. No more poly bras for me!

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  • I always recommend wool. I have Patagonia vest which is many years old and still brilliant. I also recommend TEKO and Injinji wool socks for desert racing and racing in general, far better than synthetics in high temperatures as well as cold.

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  • Can't forget about Darn Tough merino socks. The poop.

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  • Wool socks are the bomb diggity boom ;) My body doesn't deal well with the cold, yet I ran through the winter in Cascadias down to 13 below no problem. Hours in wet shoes in snow? No problem. Genetically engineered for running warmth.

    Thank you, sheep for just standing around and letting it grow.

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  • I'm using Ortovox wool products. I use upper and bottom base layer for running in realy cold conditions. Ortovox products are more for climbing or skiing, but they are realy thin so i can use it under my thin thigts for running. I have a pair for 4 years now and material is still like new. Ok, almost like new. Very durable.

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  • Smartwool, ibex, and darn tough are my top 3 wool brands.

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  • I wear Ibex Woolies a lot, espically skiing for the last 5 years. I've mountain biked in them also, but usually wear a lighter weight if above freezing. As a skinny guy from hot Tucson it's easy for me to get chilled on a ski lift and have always had a a frozen butt when the chairlift was wet or snowy until getting the Ibex Woolies bottom, no more frozen or even chilly butt. I wear the woolies top as a base layer and mid layer at times, cause it's just so effective and comfortable. If you wish to be the most stylish and comfortable this IS your piece. After 5 years they still look new!

    With the Ibex Zephyr sweater I'm comfortable 20-25 degrees warmer than with Icebreaker 320 weight, which I found very surprising. Ibex IS the best.

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